Top 5 Companies To Watch: About This List

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This year’s Space News Top 5 companies to watch list is heavily weighted toward the satellite telecommunications industry, which holds some intriguing merger and acquisition possibilities and where the futures of some companies are resting heavily on financing deadlines and upcoming satellite deployments.

Financing prospects have brightened for LightSquared, which seeks to deploy a satellite-terrestrial mobile broadband system. LightSquared recently won regulatory approval to sell terrestrial-only handsets for its planned hybrid network, only to be upstaged by Charlie Ergen, who through his Dish Network and EchoStar properties appeared to be maneuvering to take control of two bankrupt LightSquared competitors, DBSD and TerreStar, raising the prospect that the two could be merged. But Ergen on Feb. 24 told investors EchoStar was no longer interested in taking over TerreStar, clouding his mobile broadband plans and putting the spotlight back on LightSquared.

Last year brought indications, meanwhile, that shareholders in satellite telecom industry stalwart Loral Space and Communications are looking to cash out, even if a likely suitor has not yet emerged.

For Globalstar and ViaSat, the key decisions have already been made — 2011 is all about execution. Globalstar plans to launch 18 second-generation mobile communications satellite to shore up a rapidly degrading constellation, while Viasat is awaiting the launch ViaSat-1, with which the company hopes to tap pent-up demand for broadband services that it cannot meet with its WildBlue-1 spacecraft.

NASA contractors were more prevalent in last year’s Top 5 due in large part to U.S. President Barack Obama’s controversial plan to rely on privately owned and operated vehicles to transport astronauts to and from the international space station. The battle over that plan continues to rage, and Alliant Techsystems’ biggest program, the giant solid rocket motors designed for the space shuttle and which figure prominently into a heavy-lift launcher Congress wants NASA to build, hangs in the balance.

Two companies that made last year’s list have a strong case for repeat appearances: Space Exploration Technologies and Orbital Sciences Corp. have launches coming up that are critical to their plans to provide space station logistics services on a commercial basis and lend further credibility to Obama’s commercial strategy. But including those companies would have squeezed out others who are at least equally worth watching, albeit for different reasons.

As in the past, this is a list as opposed to a ranking. The space industry is diverse; different people are interested in different sectors.